Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 9, 2018 Guest: Dexter Filkins
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Very happy to have you with us.
Even as the Carolinas are not yet totally over the lingering effects of Hurricane Florence, which, of course, was a major flooding event in that part of the country, now, Hurricane Michael is expected to hit tomorrow. With Florence, you may remember that was a very slow-moving storm, and we had a whole bunch of days of advanced notice as to when that one was going to come ashore and at what strength and to what likely effect.
In contrast, this new storm, Michael, has come on fast. It is a fast- moving storm and a fast expanding threat. It`s been more than a decade since a storm this big has hit the part of Florida where Hurricane Michael is expected to come ashore tomorrow afternoon. The storm will first hit the Florida panhandle. Again, landfall tomorrow afternoon. It`s not expected to turn toward Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina, even as parts of South Carolina are still coping with what happened from the last hurricane to come ashore, Hurricane Florence.
In terms of who`s going to get it the worst, the area just sort of southeast of Panama City on the Gulf Coast of Florida looks like they`re going to get the worst storm surge. Something on the order of nine-plus feet of storm surge. Now, broadly speaking, that`s a region that includes Tyndall Air Force Base. So, that`s something to keep an eye on specifically.
But in addition to that big storm surge, for a large area they`re expecting flash flooding and hurricane-force winds that the National Hurricane Center says tonight will extend, quote, well inland. Again, tomorrow afternoon is expected landfall. Right now, Michael is a category 3 fast-moving hurricane. It`s got a 120-mile-an-hour winds. They`re saying that it may come ashore with winds that strong.
Also today, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley unexpectedly announced that she is stepping down from that very high profile position. Nikki Haley is the highest ranking and highest profile woman in the Trump administration. And, yes, I am sure it did not escape you that she has just, surprise, announced her resignation right after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as the new Supreme Court justice and all the controversy surrounding his nomination.
In normal times, that close sequencing of events might signal that that was the reason Nikki Haley was leaving the administration. Maybe these things are connected. In normal times, that`s what you`d think. These are not normal times, however. And honestly, no one seems to have any idea why Nikki Haley is leaving and leaving right now.
This is a weird time to do it. I mean, it doesn`t seem like a convenient moment. A couple of days after Kavanaugh is sworn in, four weeks exactly before we have really, really, really important midterm elections.
It`s one day after an ethics complaint was filed against her for using private planes for her government travel. Are any of those events precipitating factors here for her surprise resignation? No idea. This out-of-the-blue announcement today and no clear explanation for why it`s happening, that has sort of left a vacuum into which has flooded lots of fun speculation.
One popular avenue of speculation today has centered on her home state colleague, or at least her fellow South Carolinian, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Given Lindsey Graham`s politically aggressive to the point of strange behavior recently, it is possible that Senator Graham is about to make some sort of move into the Trump administration? If the president were to pluck Lindsey Graham out of the Senate and appoint him to some sort of big administration job, maybe this announcement today from Nikki Haley should be seen as some sort of preliminary move, some sort of staging so that she`s ready to be appointed by South Carolina`s governor to fill Lindsey Graham`s seat in the Senate.
Whenever Lindsey Graham leaves that seat in the Senate to instead move on up to do whatever Trump has in mind for him in the administration. Maybe that`s what`s going on here. Surely that is conceivable. But honestly, if that is the plan, there is no reason why Nikki Haley would need to resign from this job now, especially at this very awkward time in order for that kind of a plan to go into effect. If that`s the plan, she could just hold on to her U.N. ambassador job and then resign ultimately to take that Senate seat when the time came.
So, there`s been a lot of breathless and I will admit sort of fun speculation about that prospect and lots of other sort of breathless avenues of speculation about what could really be going on here. Honestly, at this point, we do not know.
That said, this White House does leak like a rusty sieve straining acid. So I can promise you that this mystery will not be mysterious for too long. Eventually we will find out what happened with this Nikki Haley surprise resignation today. Until then, until we inevitably get the leak from someone associated with the Trump administration or the White House who tells us what happened, until then, there is no real point in making up potential explanations that don`t necessarily have basis in fact.
So I feel like in terms of what we`re watching ahead for in the news, obviously tomorrow is going to be hurricane landfall for Hurricane Michael. I think I feel like starting tonight, but certainly by tomorrow we should expect to be getting more well-informed reporting as to what happened here with the Nikki Haley resignation.
But in terms of what we`re keeping an eye in tomorrow`s news, one other sort of low profile thing that you might want to watch for is that we`re going to have the sentencing hearing tomorrow for another one of the people who has plead guilty in conjunction with the Russia investigation, led by Robert Mueller and the special counsel`s office. The guy who is going to be sentenced tomorrow is named Richard Pinedo.
We know next to nothing about him in personal terms. I believe this is his photo. But we know that he was charged in conjunction with the indictment of the Internet Research Agency, that strange sort of Kremlin adjacent social media propaganda farm that was operated by an oligarch close to Putin who was targeted personally in that indictment and also personally sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Richard Pinedo was named by prosecutors in the special counsel`s office as essentially being an American helper for that Internet Research Agency, Russian influence operation that targeted our presidential election in 2016 to try to elect Trump. Mr. Pinedo, according to prosecutors, didn`t help the Russians directly with their actual propaganda and these sort of psychological operations they were running on behalf of Trump, but he did help them indirectly. According to prosecutor, he helped them indirectly through his profitable little criminal hobby which was basically online identity theft and bank fraud.
The Russians who were carrying out that part of the attack on our 2016 election, they needed to move money around for elements of that attack, for things like setting up Websites, and operation servers. Richard Pinedo`s online identity theft and bank fraud business was the means by which the Russians were able to do some of that moving money around. So Richard Pinedo will be sentenced for that tomorrow. Sentencing guidelines recommend a range of 12 to 18 months in prison for the kinds of crimes to which he has plead guilty.
Prosecutors, though, seem to be signaling to the judge that they don`t necessarily want the judge to throw the book at him. In their last substantive filing before tomorrow`s hearing, prosecutors in the special counsel`s office sort of went on a great length about the seriousness of the type of fraud and the type of theft that Richard Pinedo committed, but then this is how they closed their filing.
Quote: At the same time, the government recognizes that since being confronted by law enforcement, Mr. Pinedo readily admitted his own misconduct and provided significant assistance to the government in its own investigation of the facts. For example, at the government`s request, Mr. Pinedo promptly flew to the District of Columbia and answered questions posed by the government and acknowledged his criminal conduct. He explained how he obtained the account numbers later sold for profit, and he provided the government with access to records identifying buyers of the accounts. Mr. Pinedo`s prompt acceptance of responsibility saved the government significant time and resources in the investigation.
In other words, it`s OK if you don`t lock him up. But whether or not he does get locked up, ultimately, that is for the judge to decide, and that sentencing will take place tomorrow morning. So we shall see. If Richard Pinedo does get jail time tomorrow, that will make him the third person sentenced to a custodial sentence, sentenced to incarceration thus far in the Mueller investigation. He would join George Papadopoulos who was sentenced to 14 days in jail for lying to investigators. Papadopoulos has been sentenced but he hasn`t yet reported to start serving that time.
Richard Pinedo, if jailed would also join Alex Vander Zwaan, a lawyer based in Britain, who lied to investigators about his role in one of Paul Manafort`s lobbying schemes. A scheme that figured prominently in Manafort`s own criminal prosecution. Paul Manafort, the president`s campaign chairman, of course has himself now plead guilty to multiple felonies. Manafort is now cooperating with prosecutors in the special counsel`s office.
Same deal with Manafort`s deputy, the Trump deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates. Rick Gates had a starring role you might have seen on the front page of the "New York Times" yesterday because of his newly reported role during the presidential election in fielding a pitch, a pitch from a foreign intelligence firm that was offering the Trump campaign that they would come in and start running a psychological operations and online propaganda campaign in the U.S. to help Trump win both the Republican presidential nomination and ultimately the general election.
Now, Rick Gates as Donald Trump`s campaign chairman, he reportedly did not accept this pitch from this foreign intelligence firm. He didn`t sign off on this effort. He didn`t hire this firm to do this work for the campaign. But, of course, the reason this is on the front page of "The Times," right, what is inescapable and powerfully interesting about this story is their pitch, the pitch from this firm to create zillions of fake online personas and to microtarget individual Americans with divisive and/or fake information, that would be targeted specifically to influence these Americans targets either toward Trump or away from his electoral competitors.
I mean, the story in "The Times" about Rick Gates is he was pitched this campaign, and he said no. But that pitch really does look a lot like -- it looks kind of exactly like what actually happened, right? That pitch from this foreign intelligence firm, what they said they could do for the Trump campaign, it looks a lot like what Russia actually did for the Trump campaign to help him win, in part by using that internet research agency in Russia which ended up getting poor old Richard Pinedo in all the trouble he is going to face before that judge tomorrow.
So that story about the shady, mysterious intelligence firm that was offering to do that work on behalf of the Trump campaign, that story has a lot of interesting, loose threads. For one, the firm supposedly didn`t get the contract to do the work, but we know something very much like what they had pitched did happen during the campaign. Also, it appears that that firm that made the pitch, they were paid a couple million dollars right after the election. Hmm. What were they paid for?
Also, since coming under scrutiny, the firm appears to have dissolved into thin air which is not itself crazy. Business goes away. But it does add to the mystery here.
This, however, I think is one of those mysteries that we ultimately will probably get to the bottom of, if only because one of the people involved in this very intriguing story, the guy who reportedly sent this firm a check for $2 million after the election, that guy who sent them the check, what was he paying for? That guy who sent the check is now a cooperating witness for Robert Mueller.
Here he is with President Trump in happier times. His name is George Nader. He is an unusual figure in the Russia scandal. He has been convicted on child pornography and child molestation charges.
He appears to have had several ins with the Trump campaign, including him apparently paying this foreign firm right after the campaign. He paid this foreign firm that had offered this mysterious pitch to the campaign in 2016. George Nader is now a Cooperating witness for the Mueller investigation. He is cooperating allegedly under a deal that grants him immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
So because of him, because in the middle of that strange story, they`ve got a cooperating witness whose already got immunity. He`s already in the tractor beam of the special counsel`s office here. I think that this story is one of the more intriguing mysteries of the Russia scandal that we may ultimately get an explanation for. That one may ultimately be explained.
For my money, though, the single most fascinating story in all of this is what has just been reported by veteran investigative journalist Dexter Filkins at "The New Yorker."
Just before the presidential election on Halloween, October 31st, 2016, Franklin Foer published this fascinating and very controversial piece at slate.com. And honestly, it has been driving me nuts ever since. We talked about this reporting a few other times on the show.
You might remember it was about logs of Internet traffic, logs of communication between different computers on the Internet that appeared to show frequent and somewhat inexplicable contact all of the sudden during the presidential campaign between a computer server at the Trump Organization and a computer server at a Russian bank, a Russian bank called Alfa Bank.
Alfa is the biggest private bank in Russia. They have friendly relations with the Kremlin. You don`t get to be big anything in Russia without friendly relations with the Kremlin.
Alfa bank is mentioned in the Christopher Steele dossier that was published to such great controversy right before the inauguration. Executives from Alfa Bank actually went on to sue "BuzzFeed" for publishing the dossier because the dossier does mention this Alfa Bank. Just a couple of months ago in August, that lawsuit against "BuzzFeed" was dismissed in a U.S. court.
For what it`s worth, I should tell you that one of the billionaire founders of Alfa Bank has a daughter. Not that long ago his daughter married Alex Vander Zwaan. Crazy, right? One of the only people who`s gone to jail so far in the Mueller investigation, probably all just a big coinkidink.
But for whatever reason at the height of the campaign in 2016, a server use by that bank kept making contact with a server at the Trump Organization. When that server was being used for almost nothing else, why was it communicating with a Russian bank? It`s a vexing little mystery.
Ever since Franklin Foer first reported on it for slate.com two years ago, Halloween night right before the 2016 election, it has been a very controversial piece of reporting. Well, now, Dexter Filkins at "The New Yorker" has picked that up and run with it.
And, you know, even if you have felt like this is one of those confusing stories, one of those sidebar stories about the Russia investigation that seems too technical and you`re not sure you get it, pick up a copy of the New Yorker or go to NewYorker.com. Just print out this Dexter Filkins article, don`t read it online, print it out, read it on paper, read it in a quiet moment.
One of the blessings here is that Dexter Filkins is a very, very good writer. And I promise you, even if you have been mystified by this story before, you will be intrigued by it the way he has written it up. And I`m going to let him tell you the story.
But just to prepare you for that conversation, here`s a few things that he sort of blew the lid off here with his piece in "The New Yorker." Number one, it turns out that at the same time Franklin Foer was pursuing this story at the very end of the presidential campaign in 2016, "The New York Times" had been pursuing it too.
Investigative reporter for "The Times" naked Eric Lichtblau had the story and was working on it even before Franklin Foer started working on it for "Slate". As part of reporting that story, Eric Lichtblau at "The Times" apparently came to learn that the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation under way into possible contacts associated with then presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russia. Oh, which means before the election, "The New York Times" was in possession of the story that there was an open FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump in Russia, before the election. Did I mention that they knew this before the election?
Remember that headline about Donald Trump being the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation about him and his campaign`s contacts with Russia right before the election, the one that blew the lid off the election and change? No, "The New York Times" did not run that story, even though they knew that that counterintelligence investigation was under way.
"New York Times" instead ran this rather infamous story, also on October 31st, which basically said, yes, you know, the FBI looked into some stuff about Trump. People have been asking questions about Russia and stuff. It turns out it`s all fine. There is nothing there. That`s the story they ran on October 31st when "The Times" knew at that moment through its own reporting that actually, an FBI counterintelligence investigation into these contacts had begun and stood open.
And they knew that directly because the FBI asked their own reporter, Eric Lichtblau, to hold off on some of what he had to report about this Alfa Bank thing because they were looking into it too and they didn`t want it to interfere with their ongoing counterintelligence investigation. So, they knew.
I love me "The New York Times." As far as I`m concerned, "The New York Times" is the eighth wonder of the world. I do not want to imagine an America without "The New York Times" or with a lesser "New York Times."
But when it comes to how they handled the information that they had about FBI interests in two presidential candidates in 2016, at some point, there presumably will have to be a little bit of a come to Jesus moment about that, because that was a heck of a thing for "The New York Times" to have sat on and not published, especially given how dead the horse was they were aggressively beating at the time every day when it came to Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
They knew Trump was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation at the FBI at the time and they didn`t tell us? "The Times" has sort of apologized for that Halloween 2016 story since it ran. They`ve never run a correction. They`ve sort of explained their own disappointment in it. But now we know. "The Times" knew Trump was under active FBI counterintelligence investigation and they didn`t publish it.
"The Times" also effectively killed what would have been corroborative reporting from Eric Lichtblau on that strange thing about Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization servers which Franklin Foer ended up reporting all on his own at "Slate" to so much controversy. The odd communications between a Russian bank server and a Trump server, their reporting could have corroborated that too.
For this "New Yorker" piece, Eric Lichtblau told Filkins, quote, not only is there clearly something there, but there is something that someone has clearly gone to great lengths to conceal. That`s not what "The Times" published, but that`s what their reporter found.
Dexter Filkins also for the first time explains in layman`s terms what kind of communications, what kind of interactions between someone in Russia and someone at the Trump Organization might have produced the kind of Internet data that led to all of this reporting. And I will let him explain that in just a moment, because for me, that was kind of the ah-ha moment, that finally somebody has spelled out what this might have been, what would look -- what would turn up looking like this in these Internet logs, what kinds of communication, what amount of communication, what might have gone down here that produced this evidence.
But perhaps most importantly, where Dexter Filkins finally gets with this story is how this intrigue could finally one day end, how you could make this question one day have an answer, how this story and all of this intrigue and this particular mystery could finally be explained and put to bed. Quote: This March, after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee announced that they had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the committee`s Democrats filed a dissent, arguing that there were many matters still to be investigated, including the Trump Organization`s connections to Alfa Bank. The Democrats implored the majority Republicans to force a company involved in the communication between the servers, a company called Cendyn, to turn over computer data that would help determine what had happened.
Quote: Those records could show who in the Trump Organization used the server. There would probably be a record of who shut down the domain after "The Times" contacted Alfa Bank for comments on its recording. Cendyn might also have records of any outgoing communications sent by the Trump Organization.
Quote: But such a request for first-degree murder investigation is unlikely to proceed as long as Republicans hold the majority. In other words, if there really was this story that`s been so intriguing for two years now, if there really was secret line of communications set up between Trump Tower and Moscow during the election, one they tried to cover up, that could be sort of the missing link in term of figuring out how involved the Trump campaign was in Russia`s efforts to interfere on the election on Trump`s behalf.
And if anybody really wants to figure out whether that secret line of communication was there, it`s doable. You could probably figure it out. They could probably do it with just a couple of subpoenas. And in fact, if Democrats win the House four weeks from tonight, it look likes Democrats are ready to go with subpoenas to get that information, which means we`d finally have an answer.
Now, one does of course wonder if Robert Mueller and his prosecutors have already beaten the Democrats there either before Dexter Filkins published this piece or since it has been out. But Dexter Filkins joins us next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The title of the piece is, "Was there a connection between a Russian bank and the Trump campaign?" New 7,000-word exploration of the Alfa Bank server mystery in terms of Alfa Bank`s apparent computer communications with the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization during the presidential campaign. It`s written by "The New Yorker`s" Dexter Filkins.
Quote, Alfa Bank`s computers were looking at the address of the Trump server nearly every day. There were dozens of lookups on some days and far fewer on others. But the total was notable.
Between May and September 2016, Alfa Bank looked up the Trump Organization`s domain more 2,000 times. Quote: We were watching this happen in real time. It was like watching an airplane fly by, Max, a computer scientist, said. And we thought, why is a Russian bank communicating with a server that belongs to the Trump Organization and at such a rate?
Joining us now is staff writer for "The New Yorker", Pulitzer Prize winning author, Dexter Filkins.
Mr. Filkins, thank you for being here.
DEXTER FILKINS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Thank you. Thank you.
MADDOW: What was it about this mystery that made you want to revisit it a couple of years after the first reporting on this?
FILKINS: Kind of like what you were just saying. I read that story on October 31st, 2016, and I was super intrigued by it. And I thought like you could see a little bit, but not a lot. And then it went away.
I mean, the story just kind of vanished and nobody picked it up. And it just -- I was kind of haunted by that story. And then what happened was after the election, a couple of Democratic senators got the computer, got to the computer scientist and then brought him together with an investigator who was mentioned in my piece, Dan Jones, and said can you guys get some computer scientists together and take some time and look at this again and see if you can reach any conclusions it.
And they did, and ultimately that came to me. So, I got to take a look at some of those -- I got to talk to the scientists who looked at the data. They wrote up a report. I have the report.
So I was able to kind of -- it took a long time, but I was able to kind of do a deep dive into this very vexing question.
MADDOW: One of the things I found very helpful about -- I mean, we are blessed as a country to have journalists as talented as you and Franklin Foer writing about this because it`s a difficult thing. And the storytelling ability around a story like this is very important because it`s hard to get at the core of it unless you`re great with words.
That said, for me, the ah-ha moment in your reporting was some of the stuff about the "New York Times" and what they chose to publish and not before the election, but also what you explained about what this might have been. You go through a lot of the scenarios about some of the innocuous explanations for what this could have been. It could have been spam.
MADDOW: It could have been sort of Internet noise. It could have been all these other things, none of which seemed to fit. And then you said, well, here are some things that might fit.
MADDOW: In that case, you said it`s not e-mail, but it would have been other kinds of basically sort of simple communication between somebody at Alfa and somebody at Trump Organization.
FILKINS: Yes. What the computer scientists that I talked to said was this isn`t the way you would do this. This isn`t very sophisticated. We think this was an ad hoc system, something they used before and thought you know what? Let`s just communicate that way. This is just a theory.
And so they tried to imagine what was actually happening, because it wasn`t any of the things you just mentioned. It wasn`t spam. It wasn`t malware. It wasn`t e-mail.
So what was it? So, they thought for instance maybe it was something called foldering when you type a draft and you don`t send it, and then somebody else can sign on, read the draft, write another draft, you can read that.
MADDOW: So the e-mail never goes anywhere? OK.
FILKINS: It never goes -- exactly. There is a DNS lookup, and it`s logged and that`s, of course, the records we had. I thought maybe that.
There is something -- there is something called web mail that if you`re on the same server, there wouldn`t be an e-mail record of that, but they could actually be e-mailing each other, there`s any number of things. I mean, there could have been an instant messaging mechanism that was on some of the software.
MADDOW: I was stuck on that in part because of my own professional experience here. When we`re all working on scripts, me and the whole staff here, we open up a program where we all get to access the same script. And within that program, there is a little instant messaging function that`s super simple and super quick.
But if I ever wanted to communicate with something on my staff somewhere on the other end of the earth, and I wanted it to not go as e-mail for some reason and they could log into our teleprompter script system and we could use that instant message system to talk back and forth no matter where you were, that sort of back and forth communication would leave the kind of trail that these computer scientists have found?
FILKINS: Yes, which is so say not very much. Not so many fingerprints.
FILKINS: But they do leave DNS records.
MADDOW: So the content of the communications remains the holy grail here.
FILKINS: If there were communications. This is just metadata. So what this means really in a super literal sense is that Alfa Bank was trying to find the address or -- it`s like going to a phone book and saying what`s the phone number for the Trump Organization. That`s what they did 2,500 times.
And it`s usually a prelude to some other kind of communication between computers. Not always, but usually. So that`s the part we know and the unknown part is what happened after.
MADDOW: You mentioned a couple of companies, one called Cendyn and one called List Track (ph).
MADDOW: Both of which had some role in the infrastructure of how this communications happened. You suggested it`s possible if they were subpoenaed, if this was being properly investigated, that those companies might actually be able to shed a lot more light on what types of contacts these were.
FILKINS: They could, they could. So the way it worked was the Trump Organization kind of farmed out its -- the marketing for the -- its travel business, its hotels to Cendyn which is in Boca Raton. Cendyn hired a company called List Track in Pennsylvania to send out e-mails, basically, mass market e-mails.
That server wasn`t sending out -- starting in May 2016, it wasn`t sending out mass market e-mails for the Trump Organization, and that`s kind of when the mystery begins. I know that in October 2016, the FBI visited List Track.
FILKINS: And got -- and I spoke to the head of List Track, and he said, we gave the FBI everything they asked for. So --
MADDOW: That was in 2016?
FILKINS: I don`t know if they`ve done that with Cendyn. Presumably they have. But you could determine any number of things.
For instance, there is a key moment in my piece when Eric Lichtblau of "The New York Times" calls Alfa Bank lobbyist in Washington, 48 hours later, the Trump domain vanishes from the Internet.
MADDOW: It would be one thing if the Alfa side of it disappeared. They called Alfa and the Trump side disappeared.
FILKINS: Exactly. So, Eric said to me, I never called the Trump Organization. I got to call out the bank. So, what -- if you have those records, you`d be able to term who shut down the Trump domain.
MADDOW: Literally the person?
MADDOW: Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, staff writer now for "The New Yorker" -- thank you for taking on this difficult subject and for it writing so clearly. It`s great to have you here.
FILKINS: Thanks very much.
MADDOW: It`s great to have you here. Thanks.
Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Check this out. NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss has found some tape you`ve never heard before of an American president acting kind of nuts at a very volatile moment in history. It`s President Lyndon Johnson. This is him in `66 and `67, right, approaching the height of the Vietnam War.
And you haven`t heard this before. I`m going to warn you, LBJ has been known to use some colorful language, and he definitely does so here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: The thing I`m more frightened about than anything else in our government now is not whipping (ph) in Vietnam, right. It`s not -- it`s not the economic situation. It`s not our -- I`ve been strong militarily with McNamara. The thing I`m afraid of is these sons of bitches born from within.
We`ve just had hell and these college students, I`ve had Hoover in after them. And Ho Chi Minh sent a bunch of them over here a wire in April. Our folks came back home, and it was pretty much of affairs until they got into colleges. They got in colleges and they got the (INAUDIBLE) liberal groups and the preachers, and the preachers had been in all these.
They came, marched here, and we arrested 600 of them and we gave 29 of them pretty tough times. We found most of them really were mentally diseased. We talked too damn much about civil liberties and constitutional rights of the individual and not enough about the rights of the masses.
I think we`re in more danger from these left-wing influences now than we`ve ever been in 37 years I`ve been here. And they`re working in my party from within.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This sound NBC historian Michael Beschloss has just dug up from the Lyndon Johnson White House from phone calls that he made from the Oval Office, talking about the mental disease discovered among anti-war protesters that demonstrates a the time the Vietnam War was sort of dragging LBJ a little bit around the bend.
Michael Beschloss has a brand-new book out today. It`s called "Presidents of War". This is from the start of the book. He says, quote: The founders created a Constitution that gave Congress the sole power to declare war and divided the responsibility to wage war between the executive and legislative branches.
As Congressman Abraham Lincoln wrote to his friend William Herndon in 1848, the early Americans resolved that no one man should hold the power to take the nation into war. Beschloss says, quote, were the Founders to come back, they would probably be astonished and chagrinned to discover that in spite of their ardent strivings, the life or death of much of the human race has now come to depend on the character of a single person who happens to be the president of the United States.
This dynamic, this sort of personalization of war making power, that being consolidated in the president, that is a dynamic I have written about myself. I have written one book. It almost killed me, but that`s the thing that I wrote about. I`ve always considered than to a scary dynamic in modern American life and modern American politics.
I wrote my book on that subject before the current president took office. I will say that dynamic of the president having that much over war and peace is all the more scary now because we`ve got sort of an off-the-rails presidency.
Recent reporting, including that famous anonymous "New York Times" op-ed suggests that in this current wild presidency is, senior officials in the administration are just defying the president, stealing stuff off of his desk. Military leaders defying the president forget regularly without too many qualms it, just refusing to carry out his orders.
And in a way because it`s this president, that`s being seen by some people, I think it was intended to be seen by that anonymous op-ed writer as a good thing, something that should make us feel comforted. Don`t worry, the president is not really in control. It will be OK because of that. Maybe that shouldn`t be as comforting as it`s intended to be, though.
One of the things Michael Beschloss discovered in writing his new book is that as crazy as Vietnam made LBJ, and honestly, it made him a little crazy, even still, he was strong enough and savvy enough as president to kibosh it, to throttle it when he`s generals, including his commanding general in Vietnam decided that the U.S. should prepare to start dropping nuclear bombs on Vietnam.
They came up with something Operation Fracture Jaw. That was their plan to get nuclear weapons into Vietnam. That plan was set in motion, we can now see in this document that Beschloss points us to, set in motion February 10th, 1968. This is the top American military commander in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, telling the American commander in the Pacific that Operation Fracture Jaw, which again is get nuclear weapons to Vietnam that had been approved by him, you see the right quote, approved by me February 10th, 1968.
That same day, LBJ was briefed on the plan. And then two days later, a new notice went out regarding Operation Fracture Jaw. Look at the first line, quote, discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw. Also, make all of the material about Fracture Jaw secret. Place all planning material, including messages and correspondence relating there to under positive security.
So, LBJ not only kiboshes the nuke Vietnam plan, and fast, it goes to over and secret forever within two days. He takes action to make sure nobody even has any idea that this was even ever considered because he did not want the American people to know that this was even a potential option, even as paranoid and nuts as Johnson was because of Vietnam at this point in his presidency, he still had the wherewithal and the savvy to shut that plan down when that bubbled up from his generals.
Who would you rather have been in charge in that situation, the generals or the somewhat crazy president? Who would you trust to do the right thing now if that kind of situation arose now?
The great Michael Beschloss joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Whenever any big news drops out of this current presidency, one of the first people I always want to turn to ask, has this happened before, is this unprecedented, how freaked out should we be, one of the first people we always turn to is NBC News historian Michael Beschloss. In addition to being an invaluable unending font of information about the American presidency, I have to tell you he is also a great friend of this show and a huge resource for us as we try to do little bits of history every now and again just to keep us all on even keel. We`ve got no better friend on this show than Michael for keeping us honest on that stuff.
He has now written a new book, and it`s one he has worked on for ten years. It`s called "Presidents of War." In the course of researching this book, Mr. Beschloss went through and transcribed among other things, 670 hours of tape from the LBJ White House, transcribed it himself.
But LBJ is one of eight presidents who Michael Beschloss puts through the ringer in this new book, which, again, is called "Presidents of War" and it`s just out today.
NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss -- my friend, congratulations. Thank you.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
MADDOW: I`m so -- well, OK. I have a whole bunch of things to ask you. First of all, you wrote two gigantic books about LBJ tapes, and then you found more? Because your books before in the LBJ tapes didn`t include a bunch of stuff that was in here. Does it make you want to kill yourself? I mean --
BESCHLOSS: Something like that.
Sometimes when I listen to him, and sometimes because LBJ, just as you were saying about Operation Fracture Jaw, he conceivably saved the world because the generals in Vietnam were thinking about using nuclear weapons in this little civil war. That could have gone nuclear. It could have brought in Russia and China.
Johnson was a hero for stopping all that. At the same time, just as you were saying, Rachel, you just want to throttle him because he was going a little bit crazy, and even more serious than that, he was beginning to take on certain authoritarian tendencies. He was abusing the FBI. If you were a columnist who wrote against LBJ and the Vietnam War, he would get the FBI to investigate you and he would get your FBI file out, and you would be in danger of him using that against you.
And that is something I have found with all these presidents of war, at least most of them that I`ve studied which is they get into a war that`s fine, oftentimes for the most admiral reasons. But oftentimes, they used war to sort of bring on repression that can verge on authoritarianism.
For instance, Woodrow Wilson, this great champion of civil liberties, waging World War I, came up with something you talked about as you know, called the Espionage Act. That was in the late teens. Here we are all these years later. Donald Trump has been using the Espionage Act to go after journalists and presumably try to root out leakers, but in fact to intimidate journalists from writing what they should.
MADDOW: See, I feel like this is one of the key insight -- this -- the dynamic at work here, the sort of consolidation of power in the presidency in the context of war. Something I`ve been interested in for a long time.
BESCHLOSS: And I loved your book at the time, and it was a huge influence --
MADDOW: That`s very nice of you to say, thank you. But I feel like the big aha for me, the revelation is not just that at wartime does the American -- does the American polity, the American people start to think of the president as somebody they want to be imbued with power. Not only do the American people sort of consolidate in their support for a president at wartime, but it brings something out in the presidents themselves as people.
MADDOW: And it makes them want to do stuff they put themselves wouldn`t otherwise do.
BESCHLOSS: It makes them almost, you know, reduces them to their core. Oftentimes, their core is not very great. You know, LBJ was a very suspicious person.
Woodrow Wilson was imperious. He spent World War I very isolated, almost said, I know better than you Americans, what American should do in pursuing this war and also going to the League of Nations. And the result was he wasn`t able to persuade people that an international organization for peace was the right thing to do.
The other thing that happened with Wilson, you see so often, they have these physical breakdowns because war is really tough. They have depressions as Abraham Lincoln did. In Franklin Roosevelt`s case, he had advance cardiovascular disease.
So, you combine all this, you begin with a president who is going to war with flags flying, even in some cases for the best of reasons, but you`d better be prepared for the fact you will not necessarily know what you will be getting.
MADDOW: The descriptions that you have here of the death of Lincoln, the death of Roosevelt are graphic, compelling stories I`ve never heard before. And again, when I talked to you on a regular basis and especially reading this now, one of the things that always amazes me about your work is that even when we think we know something, you are able to find new stuff.
BESCHLOSS: Oh, thank you.
MADDOW: The documents and tapes here are absolutely revelatory. Congratulations.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss has a new book you should buy. It`s called "Presidents of War". Here it is.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This was the view from space today. That orange crinkly thing was the space station. The monster cloud behind it taking up the whole right side of your screen, that is Hurricane Michael, which is heading toward the Florida panhandle as a category 3 hurricane.
Winds as of right now about 120 miles an hour, and there`s no shortage of really scary pictures in terms of its track and its size. It is on track to be the worst hurricane to hit the Florida panhandle specifically in more than a decade. Due to make landfall in the Panhandle tomorrow afternoon, so we`ll see that, those images coming in over the course of the day as the outer bands start to hit.
I do want to mention there is one sidebar to the story that affects the election. Florida is one of 13 states in which today is the deadline to register to vote if you want to vote in the midterm elections in November. The midterm elections are four weeks from today. If you want to vote in them in these 13 states, you`ve got to be registered to vote by today. Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas.
Now, in Florida is making a slight accommodation for the fact that the hurricane is about to hit. If you`re planning to register to vote in Florida, in person, in your local supervisor of elections office was closed today because of the storm, the state now says you will have one more day to register in person. That one day will happen on the day your supervisor of elections office reopens after the storm, whenever that is, depending on how bad it gets.
That said, if you`re going to vote -- if you`re going to register to vote in Florida, not in person, but online, if you`re going to online register, they`re not extending that deadline to account for the storm. So, today in Florida, right now still the deadline to register to vote online if you want to be registered to vote in time for the midterms.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: That does for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. Again, we are expecting landfall from Hurricane Michael, a category 3 storm sometime tomorrow afternoon. So you should keep it right here overnight tonight and into tomorrow for continuing coverage about the threat that poses both to Florida and the broader southeast.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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